Sunglasses: things you should know before you treat yourself to a new pair

July 23, 2021

This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.

Now that we have finally been blessed with some summer, we thought some interesting facts about sunglasses from a recent survey and tips from leading eye expert Dr Andy Hepworth might well be of interest…

A good pair of sunglasses should filter out UV (ultraviolet) rays

We could be jeopardising our eye health by choosing cheap, fashion-led sunnies that offer no protection. Obviously our eyes are extremely valuable and some damage can be irreversible, so it’s vital that we choose the right lenses. 

As well as being a popular fashion accessory, sunglasses are designed to protect eyes from over exposure to UV light that can lead to premature ageing, plus eye health issues such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Excessive UV exposure has also been linked to corneal sunburn and retinal tissue damage. It can also cause eye strain and headaches. UVA rays are less damaging than intensive UVB rays. but our eyes need to be protected from both.

Research shows that only 40 per cent of people cite protecting their eyes as a reason for wearing sunglasses, with a further 30 per cent of those questioned completely unaware of the damage that UV rays can do. 

Your eyes have a natural filter, crested by the cornea and crystalline lens. This filter absorbs UV light to protect the retina. Wearing the right sunglasses will block UV rays from reaching your eyes in the first place, helping to prevent any potential damage to your cornea and crystalline lens.

Sunburn on the skin indicates that you have over exposed it to the sun – but it’s less easy to see the damage you’re doing to eyes. There has been increased awareness around wearing suntan lotion with UV protection and we want to increase awareness around eye protection too.

How to check the UV levels of your sunglasses

Now is the perfect time to check that your existing pair of sunglasses have the correct level of protection and perhaps ditch those that don’t. The easiest way is to check the label on your sunglasses, if buying new, or if you still have the box and paperwork. You can also take your sunglasses to an optician who can measure the UV filters using specialist equipment. Remember, scratched lenses may not be offering full protection as light may be filtering through. 

Five tips for buying sunglasses 

When it comes to buying a new pair of sunglasses you may think you are spoilt for choice, with an array of colours and frame styles. But the first thing to remember is that not all sunglasses are created equal – here’s what to look for:

  1. Only buy glasses that show the UV protection, which will be indicated on the label or shown on the product description.
  2. The minimum should ideally be UV 400 protection, which blocks nearly 100% of the sun’s harmful ultra violet rays, with both UVA and UVB protection.
  3. Just don’t assume all cheap sunglasses provide this level of protection, even if a sticker on the lenses says, ‘blocks UV’. Remember just because lenses are ‘dark’ in colour it doesn’t automatically mean they offer the right protection.
  4. It is not always the price that indicates the quality and UV protection. Some lower cost sunglasses can offer the right UV protection. All sunglasses sold in the UK should have a CE mark on them to indicate that they comply with regulatory standards, blocking out 95% of all UV rays below 380 nanometres.
  5. As well as UV protection it’s also important that that you can see clearly whilst wearing sunglasses. You can also select different types of lenses that are right for your specific visual needs, such as polarised and prescription.

You can tell whether sunglasses offer UV protection by checking if the frame features the CE or UV400 mark. The category for the lens shade (0-4) should also be marked on the frame, for example, ‘C3’ followed by ‘CE’. The CE mark shows that the sunglasses conform with the health, safety and environmental requirements of the EU, and therefore offer a good amount of UV protection for your eyes. 

If you’re buying new sunglasses, the best place to start is at your opticians. If you haven’t had an eye test in the past 12 months then you could get your eyes tested as you may benefit from prescription sunglass lenses or specialist coatings or lenses. Larger frames, or those that wrap around the eye, will generally provide better protection – even from the sides.

When buying sunglasses, you may notice that they come in a range of different categories. The category of a pair of sunglasses simply refers to how dark (or dense) the lenses are. These range from 0 to 4, with 0 being the lightest shade and 4 being the darkest: 

  • Category 0 — clear or very light lenses for fashion and indoor use
  • Category 1 — pale lenses for overcast days
  • Category 2 — moderate lenses for protection against glare
  • Category 3 — dark lenses for bright days (the most common category)
  • Category 4 — very dark lenses for intense sunshine (i.e. on mountains and glaciers)

Category 4 sunglasses are ideal for snowboarding or skiing activities, as they let in less than 8% of UV light. However, this category is not recommended for use while driving as the lens is too dark to see clearly. Only sunglasses with a filter category of 0-3 are considered safe for driving.

Increase driving safety by reducing glare with polarised lenses

As well as protecting your eyes from UV damage, advances in lens technology now mean that sunglasses can do so much more. Sunlight can create glare which is caused when the sun’s rays bounce off flat surfaces such as a road. This can be distracting and dangerous if you’re driving. It can also create issues for people who suffer from light sensitivity, also known as photophobia. The technology behind polarised lenses can counteract glare from the sun reflecting off horizontal surfaces. Xperio Polarised technology only allows vertical light through the lens – making driving safer and providing a high level of UV protection.

Try tinted lenses

The latest in tinted lens technology means that your sunglasses can be stylish and effective without compromising on clarity, colour and contrast. These lenses will reduce distortion to give the very best clarity, whilst muting brightness from the sun.

Consider photochromic lenses for the ultimate convenience

Photochromic lenses, also known as light adaptive lenses, are hugely convenient – they automatically adapt to changing light conditions, meaning that you don’t have to switch between glasses and sunglasses as you move between indoor and outdoor spaces.

When these lenses are exposed to UV light, the molecules in the lens change and cause it to darken – this works even on overcast days and ensures you’re receiving optimal UV protection in all conditions. Most photochromic lenses typically won’t darken in the car as windshields block most UV light but there are some specialist lenses available that will work from behind a windshield, so look into all available options.  Light intelligent lenses have come a long way in recent years with mirrored lenses and light tints available for those who are looking to put a more fashion conscious twist on this leading technology.

A&G are firm believers that we women need to look after ourselves as well as our families… so lots more interesting Wellbeing articles can be found here.

Research survey commissioned by Sightsavers and the People’s Postcode Lottery.

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